Dorothy lives in a place that many people would be loath to call home. The Kansas prairie is vast and monochromatic, with dangerous cyclones and an absence of color and beauty. It turns the once-pretty and young Aunt Em into an old, dour woman before her time. Oz, by contrast, is stunningly gorgeous and fantastical. It is peopled with strange folk, a marvelous emerald city, verdant fields of flowers and miles of healthy farmland, deep forests, and adventures galore. Most of its inhabitants are cheerful, helpful, and virtuous. It seems strange that Dorothy would want to leave this land for her home. However, the importance of realizing the significance of one's roots prevails. Dorothy never questions her return. She is from Kansas, her guardians are there, and she has duties to fulfill. She finds much to love about Oz but knows it is not where she belongs. This is an understandable mindset for a child - no matter how fascinating or exotic a place, it is always more comforting to be in a familiar setting. Baum understood his intended audience well.
Although she is portrayed as a 16-year-old in the film, Dorothy is most assuredly a child in the novel. W.W. Denslow's charming illustrations reveal her to be a wide-eyed, spirited little girl. Dorothy is the quintessential child heroine, for she is unassuming, open-minded, simple, and frank. Baum wanted The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to be a fairy tale, but unlike other fairy tales, his child protagonist does not enter into any sort of adulthood. Like Peter Pan she is still a child and remains a child even though she undertakes a sometimes-frightening journey and faces many dangers. Dorothy's childhood is not unlike most people's childhoods - their home seems dull and boring, and an adventure is welcome and thrilling. Of course, the desire to return home is also of paramount concern for the child, and this book provides the now-famous phrase of "there is no place like home." Dorothy's journey in Oz can also be viewed as a typical childhood: there are close friends but some people to avoid; there are fantastic scenes and experiences but also obstacles and dangers; there are moral lessons to be learned; and there is a clear, albeit somewhat rocky, path to self-awareness and autonomy.
The Scarecrow does not think he possesses brains, the Tin Woodman laments his lack of a heart, and the Lion believes himself bereft of courage. Of course, the reader will see right away that none of these characters are correct: the Scarecrow is the most intelligent of the bunch, the Tin Woodman is filled with compassion, and the Lion is full of courage and nobility. All of them already possess what it is they think they lack, but they are unable to see this for themselves. They believe that they must ask the Wizard to help them. The Wizard and his benevolent trickery "reveal" these traits at the end of the novel. The Scarecrow revels in his intellect and becomes the wise ruler of the Emerald City, the Tin Woodman becomes the kind ruler of the Winkies, and the Lion uses his power to take his rightful place as King of Beasts. They did not need anyone else to fix them or solve their problems; they already had within them what they needed the whole time. The same suffices for Dorothy, who was already wearing the silver shoes that could have taken her home without help from the Witch. Critics who discern a Populist theme in the text point to self-sufficiency as an important component of the movement's ideology. As a fairy tale, the moral of finding one's inner strength is enduring.
Baum is very clear in his promulgation of certain traditional American virtues. These include hard work, modesty, fortitude, and simplicity. The Munchkins and the people of the Emerald City work diligently and cheerfully; the latter work even though they do not have to. The fields are well-tilled and the houses well-kept. The people are also modest and humble. These attributes can be found in Dorothy as well. She does not use the Golden Cap or the silver shoes for any nefarious or selfish purpose; her conduct is upright and mannered; her dismay and bashfulness at killing the Witch of the East palpable. Fortitude is exemplified by the steadfast perseverance of Dorothy and her friends as they travel to the Emerald City, to the Wicked Witch's castle, and to Glinda's castle. Even though the road is rough and misadventures common, they continue along their way with minimal grumbling. The combination of the Scarecrow's brains, the Tin Woodman's compassion, and the Lion's courage allow them to succeed in all of their endeavors. Clearly Baum values adherence to one's goals. Finally, simplicity is embodied in the sweet, meek morality of Dorothy. She does not worry or despair. She is not angry or selfish. She is certainly not an intellectual, but her childishness and wide-eyed nature make her a fresh and appealing heroine. All of these virtues are subtly praised by Baum throughout the text.
The importance of friendship
The novel makes it clear how important friendship is. First, Dorothy's only friend on the bleak and windswept Kansas prairie is her faithful canine companion, Toto. He is the only one who can bring light and joy into her life. But the even more pronounced benefits of friendship come from Dorothy's interactions with the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion. All three provide emotional and physical assistance to the young girl as she travels to the Emerald City to try and get back to Kansas. She is carried over a vast abyss by the Lion, forded across a river, saved from the deadly poppy field, and protected from the various minions the Witch sends after them. Her friends provide counsel and advice and together solve the journey's thorniest problems. They are her protectors and, although she is not particularly deep, her confidantes. All three of them volunteer to accompany her on her final leg of the journey to Glinda's castle, although they all had other duties to fulfill. All in all, it is unlikely Dorothy would have gotten very far without them. Friendship in this novel is key.
Good and Evil
Good and Evil are literally and figuratively diametrically opposed to each other in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. There are two Wicked Witches and two Good Witches. They reside across from each other on the geographic axis of North, South, East, and West. The evil witches are distinguished by their rapaciousness, their enslavement of the people who live in the land they made their home, and their quest for power. The Wicked Witch of the West tried to destroy Dorothy and her friends numerous times. The Good Witches, however, provide counsel and guidance. The Witch of the North bestowed a sacred mark on Dorothy's forehead, which protected her from evil. This talisman of good is reminiscent of the traditional gift of the goddess found in the hero's journey arc typical of many forms of literature. Glinda exemplifies good through her wisdom and benevolence, showing Dorothy the way home; helping the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion realize their true callings; and freeing the Winged Monkeys from the Golden Cap. There is no ambiguity in the presentation of good and evil. The Wizard comes closest to the complexity of an actual human being, but overall archetypes and binaries prevail.
The value of the journey
Dorothy's route back to Kansas is not simple. Even though there was a simple solution from the beginning - the silver shoes - she did not know about it and profited far more from the lengthier, more dangerous journey it took to get back to Kansas. This journey provided her with several life lessons. She learned the value of friendship through her three traveling companions. She came face-to-face with the reality of duplicity and lies through the Wizard's shocking reveal as an ordinary man. She saw the fight between Good and Evil play out through the Witches. She found herself tested emotionally and physically. And, finally, she learned to trust herself and that the answers to her problems lie within her. She benefited from the company of others but the solution of how to get back to Kansas could be found within all along. This journey, then, gave her much more insight into herself and taught her how to navigate an oftentimes treacherous and confusing adult world.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
I believe the main theme in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" is friendship and self-knowledge. Dorothy's friends help her on her journey, but in the end, she finds out that the answers she's needed have been within her all the time.